British breaststroke champion saved by miracle drug adapted to Covid after devastating diagnosis – .

British breaststroke champion saved by miracle drug adapted to Covid after devastating diagnosis – .

When Karen Huizer, a super fit international swimmer and gold medalist, struggled to breathe during a workout at her local pool, her coach knew something was wrong.
The 60-year-old had been swimming since her school days, became a great British breaststroke champion as a teenager and holds 16 records in master swimming in the 25-plus category.

So being unable to sprint underwater during one of his five weekly workouts was a clear red flag that saw his trainer send him straight to his GP.

After the operation, she was immediately referred to A&E, where scans revealed six liters of fluid in her left lung.

Two days later, on December 31, 2018, Karen was discharged from the hospital diagnosed with stage four incurable lung cancer.

Devastatingly, the mother of two, an official at Tameside in Greater Manchester, had two years to live… until a miracle drug offered her a lifeline.

In her heyday as a swimming champion

“A few months earlier, I had represented Great Britain in a 1,500-meter race, something I normally took in my stride, but couldn’t switch to what I call fifth gear,” explains Karen, speaking almost three years after her. diagnostic.

“I had never experienced this in my entire sporting life. It was so unusual that my coach knew something was wrong.

“I’m generally such a strong person, but I couldn’t process the diagnosis. I was totally devastated. “

Karen had no other symptoms.

Signs of lung cancer may include a persistent cough, pain when breathing, and coughing up blood, but rarely until later stages.

She had never smoked and led an incredibly healthy lifestyle, running or swimming daily and training for triathlons.

In the years leading up to her diagnosis, she had completed the Barcelona Marathon in three hours and 30 minutes and placed second in the Liverpool Triathlon.

Karen was referred to Christie, Manchester’s cancer center, where clinical trials for a new drug, lorlatinib, were underway.

The tablets, taken at home daily as an alternative to chemotherapy, target and shrink tumors in patients like Karen who have ALK-positive non-small cell lung cancer, a version of the disease triggered by a mutated gene that causes an uncontrollable replication, and therefore spread, of cancer cells. “I was told in February 2019 that the maximum I would live without the trial drugs was two years,” she says.

“When I was accepted for the trial, I was delighted, completely overjoyed. It doesn’t work forever, but it has already extended my life. I was given a lifeline.

Karen with her sons Saul and Nathan, both 31 years old

Lung cancer is the third most common cancer, with 47,000 people diagnosed in the UK each year and the highest number of cancer-related deaths in women and men.

Up to 85 percent of lung cancers are non-small cell and about five percent of these involve ALK-positive tumors.

Although the disease is closely linked to smoking, approximately 6,000 non-smokers die from it each year – a higher number than those who die from cervical or ovarian cancer.

Karen will participate in the trial for as long as it works and will take four pills a day, have hospital checkups every four weeks, and have checkups every eight weeks. “It’s as strong as chemotherapy, but less exhausting,” she says.

“I would have taken everything I needed to survive. I was like ‘If this allows me to see my 60th birthday, I will be happy’.

She celebrated this milestone earlier this year. Her first grandchild, Sienna, was born in Melbourne, Australia last year. “The best thing the trial has given me is the opportunity to become a grandmother,” she says.

Karen had been off exercise for just six months as she recovered from ankle tendon surgery, performed between her diagnosis and the start of the pandemic.

Today, she runs three times a week again, swims twice a week, resumes spinning and gym sessions and takes a day off. Getting back into the pool – the first day doctors cleared it – was nerve-racking.

“I thought too much about my breathing,” she recalls.

Karen also works four days a week. “The understanding and the shorter hours my boss insisted on made all the difference. Everyone who goes through cancer deserves it. “

The treatment is not without side effects. Karen suffers from hallucinations and takes heart tablets and statins for cholesterol to compensate for the very strong cancer drugs.

“Every time I take a test, I feel like I’m on death row again,” she says. “I do everything the doctors tell me to the letter.

“I don’t want to be sick. Staying fit and active is the only way for me to experience this. I used to be a party animal, now I’m in bed at 9 p.m.

Medicines like Karen’s are sometimes referred to as milder or ‘Covid-compatible’ cancer treatments because they can be taken at home and are less aggressive than chemotherapy.

Christie’s Professor Fiona Blackhall described them as “putting the brakes on cancer,” adding, “Karen has done exceptionally well in this clinical trial.”

Karen hopes her story will encourage others to look for possible symptoms of cancer. “I had no discomfort or obvious signs, but what happened sounded the alarm,” she said. “If in doubt, have yourself checked. “

Karen has no plans to compete again, but one day she hopes to fly to Australia.

“My granddaughter just turned one and I’ve only seen her on video. I hope to hold it in person.

“Being diagnosed with cancer can make people bitter and angry, but I feel gratitude that I can go on for as long as possible. Every day beyond these “two years” is a bonus. I enjoy every moment of every day of my life now.

  • November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Learn more at
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